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December 5, 2017 > The Guard, a new rugby club for the south bay area

The Guard, a new rugby club for the south bay area

By Rhoda J. Shapiro

For Coach Pio Sassa, rugby is more than just a game. To him, itÕs a culture, a way of life.

ÒRugby is about teaching kids how to respect, and how to work as a team,Ó says Sassa. ÒYou have to respect your teammates and your coaches. But above all, youÕve got to respect your parents. TheyÕre the ones taking the time to get you to practice. Rugby is not just a sport. ItÕs more about bringing the community together.Ó

On December 2, on a late Saturday morning in Milpitas, his words reflect the truth. A couple dozen young people, ranging from sixth graders to high school seniors, are out on the field at Pinewood Park, engaging in deep collaboration as they undergo a series of rugby drills. They are all taking part in Milpitas Police Activities League's (PAL) open practice session for The Guard Rugby Football Club. Some of the kids already joined the team weeks back, and others are there to try the sport out, with the option to join later.

In front of the pack, stands head coach Di-an Duong. Her confident voice cuts through the air, guiding and motivating the kids. Some parents stand on the sidelines, taking photos.

Milpitas PALÕs rugby club is brand new, and Assistant Coach and Club Administrator Officer Mark Doyle, is thrilled to see such a great turnout. ÒMilpitas PAL is offering an opportunity for young people all over to experience rugby. Whether theyÕre from Milpitas, Fremont, San Jose, or anywhere from the Tri-City areaÉ they can come here,Ó says Officer Doyle. ÒA lot of our focus is to offer an opportunity for young ladies. Up until this year, there hasnÕt been anything for middle school and high school girls in this area. The closest clubs for young girls here in Santa Clara County were in Pleasanton or Danville or Sacramento. Currently we have ladies from Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Milpitas, and Gilroy.Ó

As one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, rugby is gaining great popularity. ÒFour weeks ago, I received an email from a coach from Long Island University in New York. For the 2018 year, he has 10 full-ride scholarships for 10 female rugby players in his university. So, heÕs asking coaches in California who their scholar athletes are because they need them,Ó Officer Doyle says.

Pio Sassa has coached MenÕs Rugby at San Jose State University for the past six years. ÒItÕs a privilege to work with kids. My son has been doing it ever since he was 8, and heÕs now 15. He was with the Los Gatos Lions for seven years, and today, he is starting here with Milpitas. And itÕs my daughter's very first day of practice ever. IÕm glad sheÕs finally trying this out.Ó

Coach Sassa will be coming on to coach the new Milpitas club. But on this Saturday, he stands by, watching his kids play, as coaches Di-an Duong, Elizabeth Guerra, and Hesham Naja lead the practice.

Duong grew up in Milpitas. She played on the WomenÕs Rugby team in UC San Diego for five years, and coached youth rugby for two years. After that, she moved back to Milpitas, around the time Milpitas PALÕs rugby team was starting out. It was perfect timing.

Guerra played rugby at UC Davis, and has coached youth rugby for several years, while Naja played rugby as a student at Santa Clara University.

The new club is organizing four teams: High School Boys, High School Girls, Middle School Boys, and Middle School Girls. Practices are held every Tuesday and Thursday evening, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Milpitas Sports Center. Spaces in the club are still open, and interested kids from Grades 6 - 12 are welcome to register. Middle school registration fee is $150, and high school is $175. Fees go toward things like insurance, training and safety equipment, admin costs, a club t-shirt, and more.

The Guard is hosting scrimmages for United Youth Rugby Bay Area on December 9th and 16th at the Milpitas Sports Center 1325 East Calaveras Boulevard in Milpitas.ÊFor more information, go to: MilpitasPALRugby.com

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